Health & Fitness Tips for Shift Workers

Embracing into a new health and fitness lifestyle can be challenging enough on its own - and for my clients who work long shifts and unusual hours due to their occupation, this can be even trickier...but certainly not impossible.

Even before we add workouts and nutrition plans into the picture, shift work presents lots of challenges on its own.


Many bodily functions in humans operate on 24–25-hour cycles, known as circadian rhythms. Working a variety of shifts, especially night ones, can really shake up your “body clock”, influencing working, sleeping, and eating patterns. 

For example, you may not feel hungry when you have a break, and then get ravenous in the middle or after the shift when you can’t pause, what you’re doing. Or you may find yourself incredibly tired over that night shift - only to get home seemingly exhausted, yet unable to get proper sleep and then can’t be bothered to exercise or make food.


Shift work can be a stressor on its own - and the actual workplace demands can add even more pressure on top of managing a difficult schedule. Elevated levels of anxiety and stress are quite common for shift workers, and it can be difficult to unwind or adhere to a fitness regime while feeling that way. 


Shift work is often very demanding physically - so adding structured exercise on top can be a challenge, even if it’s necessary for reaching your goals. If you do get that workout in, it can be tough to get in the right headspace and have a good session, purely because you’re exhausted.

These are just some of the challenges shift workers face - however, the purpose of outlining them was not to scare you off. Rather, you need to remember this: with so many factors going against you, the only way you can overcome these obstacles is to be prepared. 

In most cases if you’re failing to prepare - you are preparing...to fail.

Before we get into more specific strategies, a broad piece of advice is to map out what kinds of shifts you may be required to work and come up with a slightly different routine for each option – which won’t make it as daunting and making you ‘feel bad’ if it doesn’t go to plan.

Here are some tips for managing your exercise schedule and nutrition as a shift worker.



Nutrition is one of the biggest challenges faced by shift workers and people in general who are wanting to change an aspect of their health.

Meal prep can be a life saver - otherwise you may find yourself stuck with canteen / take away options, which are often expensive and may not be the best for you.

Try fitting in your meals whenever you can (e.g., during breaks), even if you’re not necessarily hungry. If your schedule is inconsistent, your body clock may simply not have the time to adjust and fine-tune hunger cues, but it doesn’t mean you don’t need nourishment. We need to keep your bodies topped up otherwise you will only reverse your progress and be in a constant negative cycle with your health. This will then affect other aspects of your life.

If you don’t have time, energy, or desire to meal prep, consider a meal delivery service (if you can afford them). There are many brands these days offering healthy meals that can be delivered regularly to your home or workplace - and some will even let you customize macros to your specifications. 

Remember that eating 5-6 small meals per day isn’t a viable strategy for everyone - you may simply not have time for this many meal breaks. The main strategy i tell my clients is to focus on staying full and nourished.


Determining when to train is a common dilemma for shift workers. Should you always do it before/after work, or is there a different approach to take?

As for the training schedule, one of my clients mentioned to me that: “I find working out before work is best for me, except on day shifts where I work out straight after clocking off. I end my shift drinking pre workout (food or drink), which means I have to go exercise - and vice versa for working out before night shifts. It's hard to get into a new routine when you don't have a normal schedule but once you start planning everything around YOUR shifts and life, it gets easier!”


When it comes to juggling health / fitness goals and shift work, something to acknowledge is that your routine probably won’t be perfect. But that’s ok - trying to make it work is what really matters.

Don’t fall off the bandwagon after one ‘bad’ day! Instead, use the next day to keep pushing yourself forward. Keep an open, positive mindset - and you will achieve your goals in due time.

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